Towards a polarized future: political socialization in a polarized America
MetadataShow full item record
It is a well-known (and particularly topical) phenomenon that America’s youngest voters are also the least politically engaged age demographic, at least via formal mechanisms such as voting. Consequently, political science literature has broadly generalized young voters’ political interest. This thesis endeavors to introduce some nuance into our understanding of young voters. One common assumption is that young people are malleable in their political views; given what we know about life course changes, this is not an unfair assumption, but this malleableness is often conflated with having no strong opinions at all. Conversely, I argue that although young voters may change their attitudes over the course of their lives, they hold strong opinions even in their youth. Specific times may be particularly polarizing on the young voting populace. To study this, I analyze the ANES data of three election years in which the political context may have catalyzed young voters to the point of strong attitudes. I select specific variables that were particularly salient on each election (such as abortion in 1980, and racial issues in 2016), and examine whether young voters 1) felt strongly on these issues, and 2) were uniformly ideological or more polarized. I also compare young voters to older, less malleable age groups, to determine if current youth have experienced polarization differently than other ages. In doing so, I find that young voters are not as predictable as the common story claims.